Fillip 2 — Winter 2006

Scott McFarland, <em>Empire</em> (2005), inkjet print, 66 x 76.2cm.

The Number One Galleries in the Number One City
Seamus Kealy

Vancouver’s meteorological climate is not always an inviting feature, being notoriously grim in the winter months. Yet, it was still voted the best place to live this year, and has scored high in recent years. The city must then offer, presumably, a vivid cultural climate. One sees instead Vancouver’s public events marinating in killjoy policies originating from the archaic morals of the city’s forefathers. Recently, a parade of people dressed as zombies dominated the downtown area, mirroring the city’s fusty social gatherings—unless one is up for yang drinking culture. There must be something going on. For one, Vancouver is the city of TV culture. Film crews abound, such as that for the hit series Battlestar Galactica, a remake of the 1970s sci-fi show, apropos for this city which had its urban centre gutted in the 1970s to make way for the spaceship malls and high-end hotels of big business.

The film industry has produced an odd mix of working class, petit bourgeois, and petite célèbre aspirations, held together by the fibre of dream factory glamour. Photographs in local dailies and magazines show exclusive social events where film types—mingling with the casually dressed, phlegmatic ultra-rich—flash their eyes and teeth into the camera for the glory of the page, not the dreadfully dull moment itself. In the bars, every second hipster works in the film industry—or at least states that they do. Vancouver is about this motion-picture-making. Everyone is involved. Even the cyclist interrupted by a film set on her journey around the seawall or the homeless fellow imagined to be cast as an extra in Davinci’s Inquest.

Away from downtown and its celluloid, on the other side of this city of glass, up and down south Granville Street, are the prominent commercial galleries, the (often aspiring) profitmakers of Vancouver Hochkultur. This art circle, so to speak, shifted from downtown sources—such as the Beatty Street office of Intermedia or the New Era Social Club on Powell Street in the early 1970s—first to a scattering of artist-run centres throughout the city and then to this collection of galleries along Granville. One must also mention the recent increase in independent, alternative arts spaces outside of the government subsidized artist-run centres, to the east of Granville. These spaces are, undoubtedly, a reaction to the fashion-driven gated community of commercial galleries; that is, the “money” thing.

Commercial galleries, like all things, have their best moments. It would be unfair to claim that a stroll along Granville Street to view the city’s galleries would sum up the city’s grey zeitgeist. However, given that Vancouver was just named the best place in the world to live by The Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2005 liveability survey, one can get a glimpse of what it is that the best people in the world are collecting. One can perhaps also understand why it is that young artists are simply not very interested in these galleries—except maybe for a free glass of wine—and are forming their own spaces for production and exhibition. Up and down Granville Street, barrel-chested buyers with horn-rimmed glasses are snapping up schlocky art. Now that the British Columbia premier has boosted the economy by ensuring that the stupidly wealthy are richer, the galleries may have the opportunity to reap a harvest. That is, yes, the best people in the world are buying art, but do they know what they’re buying? And then again, do these galleries know what they’re selling?

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Image: Scott McFarland, Empire (2005), inkjet print, 66 x 76.2cm. Courtesy of Monte Clark Gallery, Vancouver

About the Author

Seamus Kealy is an artist, writer, and independent curator. He has exhibited in Canada, Austria, Italy, and Chile, and writes regularly for Canadian Art and Flash Art. His most recent curatorial project is Unterspiel, an exhibition of four artists/artist groups from Vienna, held at Vancouver’s Contemporary Art Gallery in 2005.

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